March has come and gone. Do you believe it? We both think the past 3 months have just flown by here in E. Timor, but agree, at the same time, that 2 1/2 years is quite a long time. Nothing in particular is difficult about life here. Our house is nice, with nearly 100% municipal power (if it doesnÕt rain) and water (when our guards donÕt turn it off for no apparent reason); Patti really enjoys her job (when she has the opportunity to do it); and Dean recently started volunteer work at the Ministry of Environment; the weather has been great; the markets have fresh produce, both common and strange, and any one of three grocery stores supply us with other necessities. But you add it all up, and life in Dili is a bit of a struggle that weighs on your psyche. People told us when we first arrived that a vacation is necessary at least every 6 months. Until recently, we didnÕt believe them.
Camera 1, Malae Profile
You are looking at two news-worthy malaes (foreigners), at least according to the local news station and camera man. For no apparent reason, other than being foreigners in an otherwise Timorese audience, weÕve found our faces shown on national news covering various events. In early March, PattiÕs lovely face was part of the coverage of a Ministry of Health public meeting. And in mid-March, DeanÕs bearded profile graced the coverage of the opening ceremony for the Division of EnvironmentÕs analytical lab. Little did they know Dean understood not a word of the ceremony. As a foreigner, it doesnÕt take much to be noticed or recognized in Dili right now. With time, weÕre sure that will change, but for now itÕs kinda fun.
Late-breaking news . . . . PattiÕs going to be on national radio!
Life in Balide
Believe it or not, we still havenÕt received our sea freight. We were told at one point it would arrive in mid-February. Then in early March, we were told it was stuck in Darwin, Australia, for some unknown reason. When pressed a week later, the shipping company claimed it wasnÕt yet in Darwin, but was due to arrive that week Š when it did arrive, they would process it quickly on to Dili. Another week after that, we were finally told our shipment was lost and no one knew where it was and a paper trail didnÕt exist. What fun. This past week they found our shipment in Dili, then promptly lost it again with no idea where it is.
But without all our belongings, our little house has become quite homey. Our mamma cat and her kitten have adopted us, and we can finally pet them both. Baby kitty was very skittish for the longest time. We wore her down by showing how much mamma cat enjoyed a good pet (and boy, does she ever).
Now, as our rental contract reaches an end, we are looking for another house Š something a bit bigger (more for future acency staff than us), less expensive, and in a neighborhood. Patti found a great place near our favorite market thatÕs part of a family compound. The owners of the house Š husband and wife with 6 kids Š are really nice; she worked for the clandestine movement during Indonesian times, while he earned his Masters degree in environmental/natural resource management in the Azores. We find ourselves visiting on a weekly basis, just to see how the house is progressing or to update them on agency policy. We always stay chatting much longer than expected. If everything goes well, weÕll move in June.
Believe it or not, the new batch of volunteers arrives in Dili in less than 1 week. The number of new volunteers is now down to 20; no 19; now 18 (from 24), a result of the war, weÕre guessing. PattiÕs been working overtime developing the sites for her 11 health volunteers. The existing volunteers have been a great help scoping out potential sites and arranging community meetings. Depending on the location, Patti either spends the week out of town in any one of 5 districts (avoiding the districts near the border and Lospalos where they donÕt speak Tetun), or makes day-trips to nearby communities. This she loves; itÕs the office politics and management issues that really drag her down.
The existing Volunteers are rapidly winding up their service. Patti has been working closely with them on everything from site development to preparing the training for the new group. Dean has cooked several big meals for them and one night, we followed that up with a round of board games.
Dean and the Environment Ministry
And DeanÕs begun work as a volunteer Pollution Control Advisor. Through a colleague of PattiÕs, he was put in touch with the Secretary of State for Environment, Tourism and Investment Š the equivalent of the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Secretary of State, Josˇ Teixeira, is a Portuguese-Timorese who lived in Australia for most of his life, and only recently returned to E. Timor as a member of the ruling elite. Josˇ and the current United Nations technical advisor were happy to bring Dean on board. Exactly what he will be doing is still unknown. So far heÕs been working with local staff on industry specific issues (e.g., the construction of new coffee processing facilities that donÕt have permits). ItÕs apparent, however, that much of his work will be capacity building; few people in the office are familiar with any environmental agency and most donÕt have the knowledge/experience to really apply the few existing guidelines/laws with any vigor. It should prove interesting. His pastry show will have to wait for now.
We did take advantage of the break in rain to get back to snorkeling. Dollar Beach is a 40 minute drive from Dili and is typically empty in the mornings. And recently we enjoyed a day trip to Atauro Island, just north of Dili. Atauro has been calling us to visit Š mostly in the evenings when the setting sun accentuates the volcanic valleys of the coast. Patti passed the afternoon chatting with island children and entertaining them by trying out their small dug out canoe (sinking it, really).